This is a compilation of writing I sent to a student whom I am mentoring in Portrait Sculpture. He sent me images of his work together with the models which I have placed side by side for clear comparison, drawn on in coloured lines and commented below. The comments are specific to M’s level of Portrait Modelling and are designed to encourage further refinement in his understanding.
It has been abridged to make it more in context as an example of what I can offer should you consider mentoring. This page would constitute an hour of my time and be charged appropriately at an hours rate. Permission has been given for the use of the images.

Hi M
This is probably the best head you have sent me so far. However, I have commented directly, as always, to help to push you towards seeing clearly and making modelling choices based upon perception.
Remember that each addition of clay needs to be answering a question that you pose. The formulation of the question is of extreme importance. If you are not answering a question but just adding clay it is best to stop for the day as the work will portray this to the viewer. The protocol to follow is based upon a series of questions, like a giant 3-D puzzle. Remember that the sequence of questions is very important. Work from gross to fine and leave the details till last!

Image 1 Front View

I have drawn on the images in coloured lines:

Green lines – The eyes of the clay stare. The pupils are too central. To change this look at how you perceive an eye. Method is to raise the speck of reflection to the upper eyelid.

Yellow – The pinched quality of the muscles need to be found. A muscle needs to start somewhere and go somewhere. What is the journey of curves and hollows along that route? Pinched, expanding, flattened, filling??

Green – What are the visual clues you see in his forehead? The signs of his forehead all point inwards. Feel free to exaggerate certain aspects that are the main or chief characteristics. It is important to identify these and use them. They will seem exaggerated in the initial stages of modelling and subdued later on when you get close to looking exactly at what is perceived. This is also true for the blue lines…

Blue – The plane of the side of the head is not yet established in the clay clearly enough. Make it bold and refine it later.

Red – B’s neck hangs in clusters. Like a number of footballs in a sack. Find the centre of each ball and give it a separate location while maintaining the whole.

Image 2 Front View

Hi M
The 2nd clay (right) has not changed / developed enough from the first example you sent me (left). The surface is smoother and some of the shapes and fullnesses are better defined. But the look of the clay is essentially the same. This leads me to think that your modelling is a process of finishing rather than a constant process of redefining and rediscovery as you proceed. I say this partly to challenge and partly so that you can see your own development of the bust. I do not see structural stages being worked upon. Why do I say this? Because there is so much structurally missing from your first image of Z. For the details to be this far developed it is crucial to have made further discoveries about the structure. The clay doesn’t need to be loose or lumpy, but ground positions of the fundamental structures needs to be put in place way ahead of the details. Have a look at Philippe Faraut on You tube. He creates very smooth yet structurally accurate base
structures. Although he does these very quickly, this is because of his proficiency.
It should be your aim to create these type of structures (with little if any detail) and spent at least 3/4 of you time with the sitter getting this working before adding detail.

To compare, I have included 3 images of the most recent clay I have just completed. Its not perfect by any means, but have a look at the stages and changes between each sitting (of 2 hours)


The first is basically upright. Measured and the shapes are present without needing to be rediscovered later. The detail is minimal but enough to start to give me a feel of the look and the layout of the space between the features. The second has been tilted slightly and the third even more so. The expression and movement of muscles hasn’t even begun until the third, at a time when I am completely happy with the bony structure and tilt of the head. The second clearly defines the planes of the side of the head.

To improve to the next level you need to delineate the structure much earlier in the work. This can be through the method I advocate or through something similar to Philippe Faraut’s technique which seems to suit your style of working. Personally I think it is possible to combine the 2 methods…. but Mr Faraut can only do the work the way he does because he inherently understands the high points and structures that he is aiming for and which we have discussed previously. My preference is however not to work with a solid ball of clay, but to work extremely accurately to specific measured points from the wooden stick between the ears, keeping the clay which hasn’t been worked as loose as possible. This gives room for freedom of expression and doesn’t
confine one too early on to working upon a smooth surface, which can easily become overworked.

Hope this is enough to think about.
Please send me further images as you have them and we can arrange to speak on the phone if necessary.